Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


Was Norm Coleman’s quote really from HHH?

Former Sen. Norm Coleman included a quotation purportedly from Minnesota’s own former Vice President Hubert H.

Former Sen. Norm Coleman included a quotation purportedly from Minnesota’s own former Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey in a newspaper op-ed piece this week, but the quote didn’t quite ring true for Chris Steller of the Minnesota Independent, so he did some research.

The Coleman line was: “Today, with the Senate about to vote on a nearly $800 billion economic ‘stimulus’ package, I am reminded of that famous Hubert Humphrey quote: ‘Government will either do something to you, or for you, but government is going to do something.’ “

Steller Googled the quote, wondering if it did really come from Humphrey, a noted orator who also served as Minneapolis mayor and U.S. senator.

He couldn’t find it.

Article continues after advertisement

“The closest I saw was something the late William F. Buckley Jr. said: ‘Government can’t do anything for you except in proportion as it can do something to you,'” Steller wrote.

So he checked with Humphrey experts, but still had no luck tying the quote to HHH.

Finally, he thinks he’s tracked it down. To quote Steller’s story:

But perhaps Coleman simply wasn’t specific enough about which Hubert Humphrey he meant. As a freshly turned turncoat against the Humphrey family’s Democratic party, Coleman ran against Humphrey’s son, Hubert “Skip” Humphrey III, in the three-way 1998 race for governor that ultimately saw Jesse Ventura the victor.

Skip Humphrey returned a call late last night from Washington, D.C., where he’s attending a meeting of the American Association of Retired People national board of directors. I’d left a message with the full quote Coleman attributed to his father. Did he recognize those words as his father’s?

“No,” he said, “because they’re mine.” Skip Humphrey told me he used the line many times during the 1998 campaign. So Coleman must have heard it once or twice back then? “Oh, he heard it more than twice,” Humphrey chuckled.

But he said Coleman doubly misuses the quote, both by attributing it to his father and putting it to service of opposition to the government spending bill. The quote’s true meaning, he said, is: “You have to be there. You have to be in the fight. You have to be engaged.”